The honor of Telluride Film Festival’s first official screening Friday went to “La La Land.” Introduced by star Emma Stone and its bleary-eyed director, Damien Chazelle, the film’s looking to better his “Whiplash” record for Oscars (five nominations, including best picture; three wins, including best supporting). The Venice Film Festival, where it opened the event, embraced the film; would Telluride follow suit?
Judging from initial reactions: So far, so good. The audience settled into the stylized love story that lets everyone know in the first frames that it’s an ambitious jump-up-and-sing musical, all in glorious Cinemascope. With an original score and songs by Justin Hurwitz, the movie takes a while to find its groove as a musical romance about artistic striving. How do creative people devote themselves to a meaningful career—as well as unselfish relationships?
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Attractive and graceful, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone ably carry the movie as singers-dancers-actors. We believe in their relationship and their artistic cause, and understand that sometimes never the twain shall meet. Stone delivers one tour-de-force song—”Audition (The Fools Who Dream”)—that will land her both Golden Globe and Oscar kudos, along with likely noms for costume, score and songs.
Finally, the movie is about show business, and Academy voters will readily identify with the struggling musician and actress. Is it on the level of “The Artist” or “All that Jazz” or “Birdman”? Maybe not, but the actors and music branches, especially, will give “La La Land” points for trying.
Also playing Friday night was “Sully” (Indiewire review here), which marks Clint Eastwood’s first film at Telluride in a quarter century (the last one was “White Hunter, Black Heart” in 1990). Among those advancing his cause were longtime Eastwood fan and renowned film connoisseur Pierre Rissient (subject of Todd McCarthy’s 2008 documentary “Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema”) and “Sully” producer Frank Marshall.
Tom Hanks, Laura Linney, and Aaron Eckhart were also on hand, but make no mistake: While the well-orchestrated re-enactments of various in-the-air scenarios are terrifying, “Sully” is all about Tom Hanks, who brings his trademark Jimmy Stewart decency and intelligence to the role — much as he did in “Captain Phillips.” Hanks always makes what he does look easy, and that has cost the two-time Oscar winner nominations in the past. But his Sully is an appealing, and moving, everyman hero just trying to do his job.
“Sully” is a commercially mainstream people-pleaser that should pull in customers, especially in the New York area, as the movie celebrates how the city came together to get 155 passengers to safety in the wake of Captain Chesley Sullenberger landing his wounded plane (birds flew into both engines) on the Hudson River. Leaning into his Libertarian views, Eastwood portrays the airline and government as meddling, insensitive boobs who tried to target Sully instead of lionizing him. Audiences and the Academy will eat that right up.
More tomorrow on “Bleed for This” and “Arrival.”